Sunday, August 06, 2000

Supporting QBs adjust to roles

Mitchell, Covington preparing to play

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Scott Mitchell listens to coach Bruce Coslet.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        GEORGETOWN, Ky. — On Tuesday morning, after veteran receiver Darnay Scott broke his leg, Bengals quarterback Akili Smith was stunned by losing the team's best receiver for the season. He left practice in a daze.

        Veteran backup Scott Mitchell talked privately to Smith between practices, telling him about how other teams have coped when star players are lost and how injuries are as much a part of football as touchdowns.

        “Maybe I can be a calming voice during a game or a person who can give some insight or perspective on a situation,” said Mitchell, 32, who has played in nine NFL seasons with three teams. “Sometimes, as a quarterback, you get caught up in the emotion of a moment and you can lose your focus really easy. Maybe I can be a stabilizing influence.”

        By Tuesday afternoon, Smith was encouraging the team's young receiving corps to take advantage of their chance to play in Scott's absence.

        Even though Mitchell is willing to share his wisdom with Smith, Mitchell still wants to play. The same can be said for third-string quarterback Scott Covington.

        Mitchell is the veteran with 66 starts, two in the playoffs, and more than 14,000 passing yards. Covington has a year under his belt in the Bengals' system and has more mobility than either of the quarterbacks ahead of him. So while the 2000 Bengals are prepared to rise or fall with Smith, they have confidence in his backups' ability to lead the offense. “They've both had good camps,” offensive coordinator

        Ken Anderson said of Mitchell and Covington. “They're both accurate passers and are sharp mentally.” Mitchell got $200,000 in March to sign a one-year deal that will pay him $600,000. The 6-foot-6 left-hander started two games in Baltimore last season. “He's got some age and experience,” coach Bruce Coslet said. “If Akili struggles, I am able to take him out. That doesn't mean I won't start him the next game.” Mitchell is ready for whatever's asked. He completed eight of 12 passes for 112 yards in Friday's exhibition opener against the Buffalo Bills. “Is it the ideal situation? No,” said Mitchell, who turned down an offer from Dallas. “But that's my job, and I have to be ready. It's my opportunity, and I have to make the most of it when it comes.

        “I'm not here just to country-club it and be a backup and have a good life. I still want to play.”

        A little-known fourth-round draft pick out of Utah in 1990, he replaced an injured Dan Marino on Oct. 10, 1993, in Cleveland. Mitchell's first pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, but he rallied the Dolphins with his first two NFL touchdown passes for a 24-14 victory. He went on to start seven games and earn AFC offensive player of the month for October.

        In 1995, he signed as an unrestricted free agent with Detroit and enjoyed his best professional season. He was an alternate on the NFC Pro Bowl team after throwing for 4,338 yards and 32 touchdowns for the Lions.

        He has started and relieved.

        “I really have to approach everything as if I'm the starter,” he said. “I'm not going to get the kind of reps (Smith's) going to get in practice, but I have to have the kind of mindset to get mental reps and know my assignments and reads without doing it physically.”

        Mitchell, like Covington, often stays after practice to throw passes to receivers. Unlike the veteran Mitchell, the second-year Covington is long on potential and short on experience.

        The Bengals' seventh-round draft pick in 1999, Covington played in three games, completing 4-of-5 passes for 23 yards.

        “You learn quickly in this game that your role can go from backup or third-string to starter real quick,” he said. “Knowing that, you have to prepare yourself each week as a starter.”

        Covington played behind Ryan Clement most of his collegiate career with the Miami Hurricanes but made the most of his chance to start as a senior, guiding his team to a 6-1 record and a bowl victory over North Carolina State. He outgunned eventual first-round round pick Cade McNown in Miami's 49-45 victory over UCLA.

        That game was a long time ago. Covington's concentrating on now.

        “I think I'm throwing the ball really well and making the proper reads, and I think that comes from a year in the program,” he said. “If you look at me now and a year ago, it's a matter of me knowing what I'm doing.

        At 6-2, 217 pounds, the 24-year-old Covington moves better outside the pocket than Smith and Mitchell. Covington had a 12-yard bootleg Friday against the Bills for a first down on the Buffalo 12-yard line and put the Bengals in position for a potential game-winning field goal attempt.

        “I think I give the offensive lineman opportunities because I'm not going to be standing still in the pocket and require them to hold their blocks for a long time,” he said. “I don't mind moving around whatsoever.”


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